A major jinx when I was a young birder in southern Ontario was Indigo Bunting. I finally saw one through the window of a stalled subway train on the Yonge line in the open cut between Summerhill and Rosedale stations. It was bopping around in Spirea bushes. High-five mystified fellow-passengers.
Recently it occurred to me that Red Crossbills, Loxia curvirostra, had become a JB. In Ontario they weren't an easy get, and I never got one, but no biggie. Moving out here, I was surprised at first by how similar the common birdfare was--add bushtits, lose a lot of neotropical beauties, otherwise much the same--and didn't expect Red Crossbills to be easy to find.
But they are, in a kind of chancy way. They're year-round irregulars. They might show up at any time. They travel in flocks, apparently by throwing darts at a map. I worked in a nature facility for 7 years and walked the trails daily and never saw a single one, let alone a flock. But visiting birders would now and then record them in the sightings book, and I would hungrily set out to the location of said sighting. Nothing. Maybe a stupid towhee.
There have been a lot of Red Crossbills in the Lower Mainland over the past winter and early spring. I read of sightings in birding sites. I finally saw a few, not well, a few weeks back, while walking to school. They were at the top of a pine, and I barely grasped a sense of what they were before they bolted, flew across the road, over the houses and out of sight. It was nowhere near the victorious sense of "Finally!" that would compare with the TTC Indigo B. It was more like, that was them, wasn't it? They looked right, in their distant, barely visible bill-twistiness, and they were making the correct sounds, which I had learned from recordings. But I didn't really see them.
But then, yesterday, I did. I was looking for warblers, and look who popped into view.
Way up high, and silent. Apologies for the low-quality photos, cropped, hand-held long-lens shots, but hey, revel in my glee. I saw first through binoculars the peculiar, embarrassed colour, and that weird bill-tip. Oh heaven. I have finally really met them. A flock.
Look at that bill. Twisty. Crossed. Mal-occluded. Curvirostral.
I had no expectation of extraordinary acrobatic ability. They were up and down, all over the place. They seemed to be gnawing galls out of birch leaves.
They are weightless. They are multi-skilled. They are Chris Hadfield.
High-five elderly Chinese lady.